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Cook Islands Recipes

supplied by Mereana Hutchinson, Rarotonga
 

Poke – Traditional sweetener

POKE (pronounce 'po' as in 'pork' and 'ke' as in 'keg'). The sensational sweetness in a wrapper is definitely the banana. Babies and adults enjoy this tropical fruit with the highest calorie count, energy giver and instant food. We enjoy this as a fruit, accompaniment to meat dishes both ripe and boiled when green. There are many varieties of bananas, all of them sweet when ripe.

For this recipe, the very ripe bananas are the best because they reach optimum sweetness at this stage. The greengrocer in your centre may be ready to discard them when they are overripe so he may be happy for you to get rid of them for him. Remove the skin and place peeled bananas in a large stock pot, fill to level with water and bring to the boil, and then lower heat to simmering.

Cook for 30 minutes and check to see if color is completely changed to dark pink or deep purple. It may take more cooking so allow another 30 minutes. Leave to cool thoroughly. If you are not ready to make 'poke' straight away, put into one litre plastic tubs and freeze. The banana pulp and fluid is kept for the main ingredient. Sometimes you need to build up enough stock of cooked ripe bananas for the Banana Poke to get a sizeable amount for that party. Whatever the quantity you need, the measurement will be the same when you start the next stage to make this dish.

The other 'poke' flavors such as Maniota, aka arrowroot or cassava, Kanaka, or uto are not cooked to pulp first but finely grated and combined with coconut cream and then baked in a ground oven or conventional oven for a couple of hours, or when tested for doneness in the conventional method. Ripe breadfruit aka kuru-papa has a special treatment, which warrants its own space.

We do have a high starch content in our diet, so it is no surprise that you will have to find the purest arrowroot starch on your grocery shelves.

You need to bake 'poke' in the oven like a cake or baked pudding. We have our ground oven, 'umu' where most of our traditional foods are cooked.

Take 1 cup of banana pulp to 2 cups of arrowroot starch and mash together. Make sure the arrowroot is well incorporated into the pulp. With your hands squeeze and mix all together and open up your hands and see if the mixture leaves your hands clean. When no longer sticky it is ready for the greased baking dish and the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Check at 30 minutes with a skewer. If it comes out clean then it is cooked. A little time to experiment to get the right quantities of pulp to starch. The texture should be smooth and wobbly like jelly.

With your coconut scraper, grate the coconut flesh finely into a basin. With a muslin cloth place the grated coconut into it, wrap it up and twist and squeeze to pass the cream into a saucepan or milkpan. Heat the coconut cream until thickened. Drop tablespoon-lots of hot baked banana into thick coconut cream. Thatís it. Ready to eat. Serve warm or cold with meat dishes or on its own. This is not a dessert but you may eat it as such. This soon becomes a favourite sweet addition for the family. My personal favourite is the pumpkin 'poke', and only my Mama Paitai used to be able to satisfy my cravings for this traditional food.

Any sweet fruit may be used in this way. I have been in New Zealand when relatives have created fabulous 'poke' with carrots, peaches and plums.

Other traditional 'poke' are maniota, kanaka or mape, uto from Palmerston Island, pawpaw, lime, mango, orange, ripe breadfruit and pumpkin.

 


 
© M. Hutchinson 2001

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